By Greg DeVries
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Baylor’s 52-42 loss to the University of Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl can be summed up pretty concisely. After looking at the stat sheet, the number of penalties and penalty yards stand out. What the stat sheet doesn’t show, however, is the number of missed tackles that helped UCF get the ball down the field.
Baylor tallied 17 penalties to give UCF 135 yards. The Fiesta Bowl record for penalties is 18, and giving an opponent 135 yards is difficult to triumph over.
“Seventeen. There were a couple [penalties] there late,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “I mean, our guy gets a late one on the last extra point, which is a little bit asinine. That’s something that shouldn’t have. That’s the only time he’s on the field, he gets one there. So, yeah, I cannot remember the time that we’ve had that many penalties in a game, without question. Certainly hard to overcome.”
UCF was able to hold its penalty yards to just 40 on four flags. Coming into the game, Baylor had accumulated the most penalties per game in the nation with 8.58. The Bears were flagged 120 times in their 13 games. UCF only commits 4.83 penalties per game, which puts them in the top 40 in the nation.
“As a team, you never want to have a lot of penalties,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “It’s very frustrating. I’m not just speaking for our defense, but for the team as a whole. That’s very frustrating to have as many penalties as we had. You said we had 17? I don’t know very many ball clubs that can win with 17 penalties in one game. With a good team like that, I mean, what happened tonight is going to happen to you if you have 17 penalties against a team like that.”
As for the missed tackles, Dixon said that the field, which was surprisingly wet considering that University of Phoenix Stadium is a dome and is located in the desert, did not play a role in the team’s inability to bring down ball carriers.
“Honestly, in a football game, things like that can’t matter,” Dixon said. “That’s something we can’t control. We have to go out there and adapt to the situation, adapt to everything. We can’t say we missed tackles because of the field or we missed tackles because of this or that. We’re a football team. As a defense, that’s what we have to do. We didn’t tackle well, so that’s what it is.”
UCF players, especially its wide receivers, were routinely able to block Baylor defenders that tried to make plays on the ball. This made it difficult for the Baylor secondary to get around to the ball and make a play. UCF head coach George O’Leary said that he was pleased with his wide receivers’ blocking down the field.
“I always said if you want us to throw you the ball, you’ve got to be able to block,” O’Leary said. “Any time you see chunk plays in the run game, you usually have a receiver corps that’s blocking well downfield. I thought they did a great job of getting hands on people, they were on their feet. Again, I thought the runners did a good job of utilizing them downfield as far as blockers were concerned.”
It wasn’t just the receiving corps that was able to create space for ball carriers. UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles was able to find running lanes throughout the game and finished with 93 yards on just eight carries, one of which went for a touchdown. He attributed the rushing success to good blocking as well.
“That was the second time we had gone back to that play,” Bortles said about his touchdown run. “The first time, you know, we had a little mishap. [Sophomore tight end] Kevin [Miller] made a great block outside. [Junior left tackle] Torrian [Wilson] did a good job of getting up to the outside backer. I guess he fell down or something. I guess he was behind me. They did a great job of blocking that play up.”
This was the first BCS game for both teams. Briles said after the game that he did not prepare the Bears the way that he needed to. Whether it was lack of preparation or something else, Baylor missed an opportunity return home as Fiesta Bowl champions, and that was due in part to poor tackling and penalties.